SENIOR RESOLUTIONS

“My ongoing resolution for over a decade is to stay healthy, upright, and out of the box.”

New Year’s Eve is here and gone, and I didn’t make a single “new” resolution. I quit doing so several years ago figuring it was a waste of time. My ongoing resolution for over a decade is to stay healthy, upright, and out of the box. Everything else seems second-fold, at least to me it does.

I just read a newspaper article written by an anonymous person dictating that my mindset is flawed. That could very well be because family and friends have echoed this for ages.

This unknown writer said that a Rush University study showed it’s healthy for seniors to have yearly goals, because they help offset Alzheimer’s. That’s a perfectly valid reason. I know several people who’ve gone through this terrible disease and they’re no longer here. They, along with their family, suffered immensely.

The article went on to state that seniors should set goals at eliminating clutter in their home. This is considered a safety move, because the older a person gets, the easier it is to take a tumble. Broken hips and pelvises are to be avoided, especially for Havasu’s “Over-The-Hill-Gang.” Most of them already know that. There are still a few crazies amongst the group doing dangerous things, like trying to lift heavy things without help.

Just what clutter to get rid of can be mindboggling. Never mind that some of my tools are no longer used. They must stay regardless! It’s borderline sacrilegious for a gearhead to dispose of his or her tools. Right now, I have both eyes pointed towards my wife’s clutter more than anything. So far, she’s resisted my advice on what needs to disappear.

Another senior resolution brought up in this column is to get all medical stuff in proper order. Evidently, that means having a current list of all the medications you take, including a file for Medicare, insurance, and other papers. I’m not the most organized person in that area, sometimes not giving a rip on what’s inside those countless letter’s seniors receive, spewing unwanted healthcare advice. As long as my pharmacy gives me pills without hassle, I’m a happy camper.

Making new social contacts is also on this person’s recommendation list. Reconnecting with old friends is one of the items mentioned. Mark that one off my list because I started doing such years back. I located former friends all the way back to elementary school, including first-grade teacher, Mrs. Doris Harris.

For the most part, I wholeheartedly agree with what this article said. A couple of things mentioned I’ll start doing. I didn’t need to make any senior resolutions this year, because someone else made them for me!

SNAP, CRACKLE, POP

“On December 31, 1970, good friend, Bob Malone, my brother, Jim, and I decided to go late night snowmobiling to bring in the New Year.”

Aurora Borealis

One of the things I like most about living in Arizona, is that I don’t have to go far to find seclusion away from all the city lights, and do some serious stargazing. When light pollution’s at a minimum, it’s easy to spot satellites circling overhead and meteors heading across the sky. For my wife and I, this is directly out our backdoor.

The same could be said in Alaska although I don’t recall that many “shooting stars” as we called them. I suppose those folks living in the bush communities saw them all the time. In Anchorage, unlike parts of Lake Havasu City, there was a constant glow above the city preventing such.

Joleen and I would drive to Bird Creek some twenty miles out of Anchorage and watch for celestial anomalies. It was winter when we did this, because during summer months, the sun barely set before it popped up again.

The darkest place I ever observed stars while in Alaska was on LaTouche Island in Prince William Sound. There were five of us camping there in late fall, and we were the only inhabitants. At that time of year the days were getting shorter. In a few months the moon would reign supreme over the sun.

Around midnight, my son and I stepped outside the old cabin we were staying in and turned off our flashlights. I’ve never seen the Alaskan stars brighter than at that one spot alone. It was as pitch black as it gets, unless you’re standing in a tunnel or cave.

People say that the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis, whatever you prefer to call them, snap, crackle, and pop at certain intervals. I can vouch for that, having heard them do so one time. It’s easy for me to recall exactly when that happened because it was on New Year’s Eve.

On December 31, 1970, good friend, Bob Malone, my brother, Jim, and I decided to go late night snowmobiling to bring in the New Year. It was no problem doing such as we could drive the machines from our front yards, across Muldoon Road, and be in the sticks within minutes.

That particular night was bone chilling cold, at least minus ten degrees Fahrenheit or colder. We were dressed appropriately, wearing Arctic parkas, thermal lined pants, bunny boots, and facemasks. Bunny boots are military grade rubberized boots with an air chamber built within to hold the heat. They are white in color, thus I believe that’s where their unusual name came from.

We were a couple of miles in the woods, away from any noise besides our own making, and the Northern lights were dancing like never before. Multicolored ribbons of light jetted back and forth as if perfectly choreographed. All they needed was music to complete the show.

Bob suggested that we stop and turn off our machines. Listening closely, we heard a sound much like that of static electricity as you remove a nylon garment. It was quite pronounced. Some might say the crackling resembled a bowl of Rice Krispies after milk had been poured on top.

We sat there for several minutes listening to this peculiar crackling before deciding it was time to head home. The year 1971 had arrived in most spectacular fashion.

I only hope that 2023 repeats the same here in Arizona, in the way of a colossal shooting star with shimmering white tail. One thing I won’t be doing, is wearing a parka and bunny boots while watching for it.

Happy New Year!

Dusk brings darkness

MACKEY LAKE

“Needing to make up for lost time we worked once again to midnight, hearing the same profanities coming at us as the evening before.”

Mackey Lake

During the last thirty years, at Christmas time, I tried writing the most crazy and bizarre Christmas letters and cards of all. They were sent to select family and friends. Some were borderline genius if I may say so, while others crashed and burned. That’s the way it is in writing humor. Like standup comedians, there are those compositions that fall flat on their face.

This year for Christmas, I decided to do something different. Three stories were composed about my friend, Jeff, and myself. As far as I know they’ve never been told, at least not by me. This is the third and final one. Much like the storyline, working through ailments has placed me a bit behind schedule. I’ve been writing day and night to get things finished.

*****************************************************

My friend, Jeff Thimsen, decided on a career as a carpenter and contractor early on in life. I believe a major part of his choice revolved around Jesus Christ having done the same, including good family friend, neighbor, and mentor, Maver Roth. Jeff worked with Maver on several construction projects throughout high school and after graduation. Roth taught Jeff many of his tricks of the trade.

Eventually, Jeff headed out on his own, doing framing and other related projects under the name, Thimsen Construction. I was one of, if not his first hired employee. A framing contract awarded to Jeff by CAPP HOMES out of Washington State required the assistance of at least one laborer, mainly to help set heavy walls into place.

The project was at Mackey Lake in Soldotna, Alaska. We’d be staying in a tent and roughing it so to speak. It sounded like a camping trip to me with pay so I was eager to get started.

Electricity was provided to the site, but all other amenities were up to us. Thankfully, Solid Rock Bible Camp was but a short distance away. We were able to obtain a hot meal, sandwiches, and water from the camp counselors, most especially, Steve Larson, one of Jeff’s good friends. Not being moochers, we left a donation to the facility for food. Solid Rock also let us bathe in the cold waters of their adjoining lake via bathing suits of course.

When I first saw the huge pile of wood at our construction site, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. It was hard to imagine that amount of material being handled by two people. Jeff’s simple response was, “One piece at a time!”

By the first day we pretty much had the floor down, this accomplished by working well into the night. Using flood lights, and with help from the almost never setting sun, we motored along until well past midnight. The tap, tap, tap, of our hammers echoed like gunfire across the lake. Someone on the other side started yelling for us to stop, but we kept on going, figuring there was no noise ordinances in rural Soldotna.

The third day, Jeff accidentally stepped on a nail putting it through his right heel into bone. His foot swelled like a baked persimmon, and we deemed it best to go straight to a doctor. This was after he tried working in pain for a couple of hours. We made a quick dash to Anchorage where my friend received a tetanus shot plus thick bandages. There was a short time schedule for getting this job done so back to Soldotna we headed.

Needing to make up for lost time we worked once again to midnight, hearing the same profanities coming at us as the evening before. In our way of viewing things, the guy doing all the screaming could’ve simply put in earplugs if our noise was that irritating.

Trying to erect the first large wall, Jeff and I found that we didn’t quite have the umph to get it all the way up. Steve Larson came to our rescue once again after we picked him up. His strong back and brawn came in handy numerous times after.

The roof pitch was a steep 8/12, so it took me some getting used to being up there. If I fell, on one side there was soft dirt, the other end was where the lake met damp earth. It was quite a drop into cold water at that point. Initially, Jeff worked with a rope tied around his waist while I held tight on the other side. Eventually, scraps of wood were nailed down for foot support.

The hardest part of the whole job besides raising and setting heavy roof trusses, was installing a twenty-foot-long glulam support beam. Steve Larson again risked his life on this task. We tied a rope onto one end of the beam and lifted it into a precut slot. The other side was manhandled with young backs, long boards, and ropes. It took a while, but we were successful and uninjured.

Seeing that we could finish things in one more day and meet schedule, Jeff and I rose early that morning and worked until three a.m. Our friend across the lake cursed us incessantly until he evidently ran out of breath. When we heard what sounded like a gunshot, Jeff decided that he meant business. Having almost completed our job, it was wise to hit the sack.

No sooner did we fall asleep than headlights rolled up to our tent entrance. We had a handgun and I reached for it expecting the worse. A bright spotlight suddenly illuminated our tent, with a demanding voice coming across a tinny sounding loudspeaker,

“This is the state troopers. Is anyone in there. If so, come out slowly.”

I wisely slid the gun back under my pillow, with Jeff and I carefully crawling out in our skivvies.

The trooper wanted to know if we were the ones doing all the hammering. It should’ve been quite obvious to him that we were, because this was the only home being framed within miles.

After giving him our story about how the job needed to be done by a certain date to avoid penalty, and Jeff hurting his leg, he seemed sympathetic to our problem. The officer gave us a warning to not work past ten at night. What he didn’t make clear was on how early we could start, and Jeff didn’t ask. I wanted to say that we were workaholics, believing he’d find humor in such, yet my mouth had gotten me in trouble many time before so I kept it closed.

Needing just a few more boards nailed together and wanting to get out of that cramped tent for our comfortable apartment back in Anchorage, we were once again pounding nails in less than an hour. As expected, the man across the pond started yelling.

As a final coup de grace to the whole experience, Jeff tapped out that infamous door knock on a hollow bedroom wall, “Tap – tappa tap tap – tap tap.” At that point we quickly packed up tools and rolled out of town.

Jeff went to a successful building career, while I worked a couple of years with a friend owning C&K Construction, pouring concrete with some framing during the winter. I finally went into the automotive field finding that more to my liking.

There’s a section of roof truss in that Mackey Lake home having the following inscription written in pencil:

Jeff and Mike – 1973

I drove by that house a while back finding that it still stood tall. This was a testament to our hard work, blood, sweat, and boxes of sixteen-penny-nails pounded by hand, around the clock for a week, nearly fifty years ago.

Capp Homes advertisement

THE PURSUED

“A Loomis private security vehicle slowly rolled around the complex performing a nightly security check.”

Class motto

Some stories are best left untold for many reasons. I have several that will always remain that way. I’m sure family and friends echo the same.

The following story was in my upstairs confidential file for over fifty years.

Rather than keep things under wraps until the secret’s lost for good, I decided this cat needed out of the bag. Tooting one’s own horn also comes into play before the battery goes completely dead. This tale can now be unleashed without harm to anyone.

One of the major class accomplishments of East Anchorage High School – Class of 1972 – was a mural in the senior courtyard. Our motto: Future Goals We Will Pursue – Senior Class Of ’72 was proudly painted on one wall. On the outside cinder block, this could be viewed from within through numerous windows.

After our graduation ceremony, I talked to a former classmate slated to graduate in 1973. He still had one week of school left. The guy bragged that his class had constructed a large banner with their own motto, The Guiding Light To A World That’s Free, Senior Class of ’73. They intended to place it over ours. That was overt disrespect in my mind, yet I bit my tongue and said nothing.

A few juniors went on the school roof late Friday afternoon, May 26, with permission, after classes let out, unfurling their Class of ’73 banner, totally obliterating our message. Students returning on Monday morning would see this for the first time, at least that was their plan.

After getting wind of such, I immediately called my friend, Jeff Thimsen. Telling him what I’d heard, he already knew about it. His girlfriend, Laura Kile, was behind the making of this banner. Telling Jeff what I wanted to do, my friend was highly skeptical at first, not wanting to cause any relationship problems.

I eventually persuaded him by saying I’d be the one doing the dirty work, and he’d merely be an innocent bystander. My television hero, Larry Mondello, came to mind when I pleaded with Jeff for assistance.

Around midnight on May 28, dressed in dark clothing, we scurried to the rear of this sprawling complex, stopping at a large electrical conduit secured to a corner wall. The pipe went all the way to the roof. Our car had been left in a mortuary parking lot down the street so as not to raise suspicion.

It took some effort to climb the pole with my needing assistance from Jeff to get over the edge. Crouched down while running, within seconds the senior courtyard came into view. It took little energy on our part to free the newly constructed banner and send it gently to ground with barely a rumple.

Thinking all was cool, a custodian evidently mopping floors was near this area when the sign came loose. It must’ve startled him as I could see the guy staring out a window, fixated on the collapsed banner below us.

We stepped back and sat quietly for several minutes as he walked outside and lit a cigarette. It’s a known fact that smokers will seize any given opportunity for a fix and this fellow proved such. It seemed like an hour passed before he finally reached total nicotine satisfaction.

With him taking one last drag before closing the door, we quickly scurried back to the area we’d climbed. A Loomis private security vehicle slowly rolled around the building at this time performing a nightly security check. Many such employees were moonlighting military service members back then. Evidently this guy, half asleep, wasn’t very observant or he would’ve spotted our silhouettes against the bright moon. It would’ve then become a race to escape.

Thankfully, the Loomis employee soon wheeled back onto Northern Lights Boulevard having completed his mission. With hearts pounding, we quickly slid halfway down the pipe and then jumped the rest of the way to expedite things. From that point we hightailed it into adjoining woods for a short spell.

I never heard what the students putting that banner up thought when they came to school Monday morning. Most likely, like that lone janitor, they blamed it on wind. There’s an old song titled, They Call the Wind Mariah. On that night, the wind was named, Jeff & Mike.

Our class motto undoubtedly remained in view for one more day because of this symbolic act. That was our first pursued goal after leaving school with bigger ones yet to follow.

Looking back, it was a good thing we were the ones doing the pursuing that evening, instead of being the pursued!

PARADE MARSHALS

“As we slowly led the convoy, Jeff and I waved out our windows to those watching.”

It was Friday, June 2, 1972, and school was finally out for the summer. Big things were planned to take place that afternoon. Not since that day has this ever happened again in Anchorage, Alaska, and probably never will without quick response from law enforcement.

Organizing our own personal parade, was the last thing left unaccomplished on an otherwise stellar year of innocent juvenile hijinks. Leading forty yellow buses down Lake Otis Parkway in my purple, 1954 Chevrolet “Hot Rod” was the ultimate touché for me and my pal.

Being seniors at East High, we’d graduated one week earlier. Our celebration for twelve years of imprisonment was a late-night meal at Leroy’s Pancake House, along with dessert at Flapjack Jim’s right down the street. We needed a more grandiose farewell than that.

Buses leaving our school parking lot each afternoon went different directions on their way out. Our carefully planned parade unfortunately wouldn’t work there because of such. This wasn’t the case at Service High.

The buses at that facility formed a one-mile line down Abbott Loop Road before most of them turned onto Lake Otis Parkway for another five-mile jaunt. We decided Service High was the perfect place for our celebration to begin.

The day before, things were surveyed to see exactly how and when the vehicles departed. They all exited from the same turnout which made things easy. Friday afternoon, several minutes before the last bell, we positioned ourselves on Abbott Loop Road just beyond that point.

As the buses started rolling, Jeff wheeled in front of them. The plan was to never leave first gear which made for a maximum of 20 MPH. My old car was a stick shift.

Within seconds, we were “Grand Marshals” of a parade far bigger than some found in rural American harvest festivals. As we slowly led the convoy, Jeff and I waved to those watching. The sight was definitely something to behold.

For what seemed like an eternity we led our entourage with tears rolling down both faces and cheeks. I was afraid to turn around and look but my compadre gave me constant updates. Some twenty minutes later we arrived at Tudor Road. That was where our parade ended, or at least we thought it did.

Changing seats, I dropped Jeff off at his house and headed home. As I rolled into my driveway a police car was already there. Mom was standing at our door talking to a man in blue. We’d cleverly concocted a story just in case this happened. When the officer asked me what was going on I innocently informed him,

“Something’s wrong with the steering.”

He didn’t buy my story and pressured me into telling who the other person was in my car. I was then given a ticket for impeding traffic. Evidently, that’s all they could legally hang me for. Thankfully, there were no vehicle safety inspection stations in Alaska back then, so my Chevy was off the hook.

Jeff had the same experience and also received an impeding traffic ticket. My pal told the policeman the same fabricated tale which sealed the deal in that respect. Being juveniles, we were instructed to have our parents accompany us to court. Jeff’s dad came with him, and my mom chaperoned me.

The judge wasn’t pleased to hear what happened saying that we jeopardized the lives of many people that day. I’m not sure Jeff and I went along with his analogy, but for the sake of not incurring further wrath, we agreed with him. Our fines were something like $15 apiece which was a bit steep.

Being Co-Grand Marshal of a parade lasted for a mere twenty minutes, yet I relish that title as much as any. Roy Rogers once led a parade I attended in Victorville, California. He rode his white horse “Trigger” and made quite a spectacle with fancy saddle and clothing. My brother said that people cheered him on.

Jeff and I did much the same as Roy Rogers while driving a purple ’54 Chevrolet. You know, when I think about it, I believe people were cheering for us that day. I’m sure the bus driver directly behind our rear bumper said a few choice words, and might’ve even given us a hand salute, minus four fingers of course.

MY COVID STORY

“Later that day, as I watched the Miami Dolphins get spanked by the Los Angeles Chargers, I noticed a sore throat coming on.”

I never thought I’d be writing a story about my own COVID 19 experience. I’m “Mr. Protocol” when it comes to following CDC guidelines where disease or virus prevention is concerned.

Masks are worn religiously into grocery stores, medical facilities, banks, you name it. Hand sanitizer is within the door pocket of my car along with saline nose spray. I use the spray on occasion although it’s not proven to stop the COVID virus. Far as I know these germs end up “bodysurfing” on the stuff.

I’m that half-awake guy you see pushing a cart when grocery stores first open, or right before they close to minimize contact with other customers. It’s amazing how fast things go when you’re the only person in an aisle. There’s a purpose for all this madness.

Not only am I high risk, but my wife is especially so. A former cancer patient now in remission, her oncologist deemed it best I do all the shopping and leave her at home. A majority of this is accomplished online and through picking up necessary items afterwards at a designated parking spot. All’s been hunky-dory going on three years now.

Early one Sunday morning as I sat at this computer writing a short story, I suddenly sneezed four times. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to block the first one with my hands. I chalked it up to those pesky Arizona allergies.

Later that day, as I watched the Miami Dolphins get spanked by the Los Angeles Chargers, I noticed a sore throat coming on. Whenever that happens, I automatically go on alert for bronchitis popping up. At least once a year right around the holidays, like clockwork, I experience such. Before going to bed that night, I gargled with warm salt water. Mom taught me that old Alabama remedy early on.

Monday morning my throat felt like a raw piece of meat. Having a runny nose, I was coughing with no fever. There was something different about this cough like no other cases of bronchitis I had. Immediately, I called my doctor, who I asked to let me begin a regimen of Azithromycin. Giving him all my vitals along with what I was experiencing, he obliged. It’s been the same ole routine for many years with several physicians.

Before venturing to the pharmacy, I decided to do one last thing. I arranged to have a drive-thru COVID 19 test performed at the same time. Thinking the worst about a swab stuck up my nose, this procedure was actually a piece of cake. Within two hours test results came back showing I was positive.

My next step was to call my primary physician and give him the updated news. He told me to follow through with the ZPACK for any bacterial germs that might crop up, along with drinking plenty of fluids and get sufficient rest.

Being an analytical kind of guy, I wondered exactly where I got the crud. It didn’t take long to reach a conclusion.

My wife and I were discussing this and remembered that she’d been sneezing three or four days previous with a unique cough. Joleen chalked it up to allergies or a side effect to the Prednisone she was on. Unlike me, she had no sore throat and felt pretty good other than being tired. Who isn’t this time of year!

When I suggested that she get a COVID test just to make sure, Joleen agreed. It too came back positive.

My wife had only been to one place the preceding two weeks and that was a lab here in town. I choose not to specifically identify it and you’ll soon see why.

When she returned home that morning I asked how many wore masks in the lab waiting room. Her answer didn’t surprise me,

“One other person besides me.”

Joleen said the staff all had them on. A sign on their front door advised those coming in to use masks but it was not enforced. I believe this is true of not just this place, but many other medical offices throughout the city. Masks aren’t totally designed to keep people from getting germs, but to keep folks from spreading them as well

Is this lab where my wife picked up her coronavirus and then passed it on to me? I’ll leave that up to the reader.

One thing I’d bet a hundred-dollar-bill on, if I had one, is that she wasn’t the only person leaving that place Monday morning with a case of corona, and I’m not talking beer.

The next time some medical technician asks if I’ve been around anyone having COVID the past fourteen days, I’ll reply with serious face,

“Undoubtedly, with some not even knowing they have it!”

I’M NOT PAYING

“Having a curious nature, my brother eventually called this military cemetery finding that our father wasn’t there .”

I’ve read stories about celebrity types feuding over a loved ones remains. Names that come to mind are: singer – James Brown, baseball great – Ted Williams, actor – Peter Lawford, singer – Ray Charles, and actor – Marlon Brando. Never in a million years, did I believe the same could happen to our run-of-the-mill family.

Dad had specific wishes, that when he died, we were to consult the United States Air Force Veterans Association. The military would provide body preparation and burial free of charge. My father didn’t want anyone spending a dime on his funeral. His way of looking at things, was that after 20 years in the service, that’s the least they could still do for him.

He specifically wanted to be buried at Fort Richardson National Cemetery in Anchorage, Alaska. Mom’s interned at Pioneer Cemetery in Palmer, Alaska. That was her choice.

After Mother passed, and before Dad died, my father’s new wife elected to sever all communication with our side of the family. Sadly, that happens more often than you think. This went on for almost seven years. When word came that he’d finally left this earth at the age of 88, there was nothing we could do to make sure Dad’s wishes were followed. My brother tried but was rebuked in the effort.

Jim and I were told that Dad’s body was taken care of by a local Henderson, Nevada funeral home, and that he was entombed at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder some ten miles away. Having no say in the matter, we were at peace believing at least part of his directive was followed.

Having a curious nature, my brother eventually called this military cemetery finding that our father wasn’t there. After more checking, Jim discovered that Dad had been cremated and his ashes were never mailed to the spouse nor picked up by her.

Trying to arrange transfer of the urn to us, Jim ran into a serious roadblock. To begin with, the second wife still had rights over it, and even worse, the mortuary holding the cremains, Hites Funeral Home and Crematorium, had been closed down by state officials for wrongful practice.

After many calls, Jim was finally able to locate a city employee that offered to help. Through this person, it was discovered that Dad’s wife was now mentally imbalanced, thus unable to make her own decisions. When it appeared my brother might finally get possession, another hurdle sprang forth.

A person with Clark County Social Services told him that Dad’s cremains had been placed into a vault containing ashes of 59 other destitute people. To say that was a shock is an understatement. Jim was given a location to the crypt and their hours of operation. By now, there was nothing we could do to have them removed without getting attorneys involved. Reluctantly, we agreed to wait things out.

Time turned out to be on our side. After Dad’s second wife died in 2022, Jim petitioned the city to let us have the remains. It didn’t take long before approval was granted.

Our next step is fly with them to Alaska and have the urn reinterred at Fort Richardson National Cemetery. That will fulfill Dad’s wishes other than the cremation part. As hard as we try, there’s no way we can change that.

Our father would be happy knowing “the boys,” especially Jim, fixed something that appeared to be unfixable. The “old man” had a dry sense of humor, and I use those words with reverence.

I visualize him gazing down with a smirk on his face. After all the mix-up that his spouse, funeral home, Clark County, and City of Las Vegas caused, Dad would’ve uttered the following,

“I’m not paying for that!

Fort Richardson National Cemetery

A SMILING FACE

“She kept the picture, but gave me J.C.’s old pocket knife with a broken blade.”

The only known photo of J.C. Hankins

The year was 1941.  WWII was a mere five months away.  My father and his brother, James Columbus (J.C.), had just finished celebrating The Fourth of July in Vernon, Alabama where they lived.

J.C. had plans for his tenth birthday two days later.  Because of the closeness in events, I’m sure my grandparents combined J.C.’s birthday with the holiday where special food was concerned. Grandma would’ve made J.C. some ice milk as she called it. She always did the same for me and my brother.

Grandma Hankins took an aluminum ice cube maker and poured milk in it, then added sugar. She froze it afterwards. It was as close to ice cream as Grandma could get.

On July 31, 1941, dad and his brother were walking through downtown Vernon early in the morning.  It would’ve been Thursday according to the newspaper story.  Dad and J.C. strolled by two men trying to start a truck.  Curious at what was going on, they stopped to watch.

One of the men was pouring gasoline into the vehicle carburetor while another fellow cranked the engine over.  When the truck backfired the can of gasoline caught fire.

The man quickly tossed it aside.  James was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The flaming gas went all over his clothes setting him on fire.  J.C. took off running and before anyone could stop the boy he was severely burned.  The uncle that I never got to meet, James Columbus Hankins, died later that day.

That traumatic event left horrible mental scars on my father. He never talked about it. Dad passed away five years ago at the age of 88 carrying this pain to the grave.

In 2016, I had a telephone conversation with the son of the mechanic that accidentally tossed that burning can of fuel.  He told me he was a small boy when it happened. This person remembered things extremely well.

He told me that his dad was never the same. The family eventually moved out of Vernon to try and escape bad memories. That relocation didn’t completely erase it all. Like my dad, this man’s father never openly discussed it. He had to live with extreme grief for the rest of his life.

My late, Uncle James Columbus Hankins, is buried at Asbury Cemetery in Lamar County, Alabama. His granite gravestone now shows its age. The tragic accident took place 81 years ago so that’s to be expected.

July is not only our countries independence month, but a reminder for me each and every year, that I have an uncle I never got to hug or shake hands with, because of a most horrific accident. There’s only one photo of J.C. that we knew of and it appeared to be permanently lost.

Getting back to that lost picture of my late uncle. It was first shown to me by Grandma Hankins in the early 1960s. With the photograph being one of her most cherished mementoes, she kept the picture in a a secure place, yet did give me J.C.’s old pocket knife with a broken blade. The knife eventually became lost due to my irresponsible nature. I was only six or seven.

After Grandpa and Grandma died, the box of vintage photographs was passed on to Dad and Mom. On occasion, I’d thumb through them. J.C.’s picture was recognizable as it had a section missing in the upper left corner.

Years went by, and what now seems like a blur, Mom sadly left this world. Dad, of course, became sole caretaker of the photographs. He remarried and all was assumed to be fine where safekeeping family photographs went.

Because Dad was a long-haul trucker, and had no permanent address for a brief time, the box of pictures, along with other worldly goods was placed within an outside storage unit.

Within a year, that complex was broken into and most all items stolen, except for those photos and some winter clothing.

As it sometimes happens, my father’s new wife, for whatever reason, took a dislike to our side of the family and communication was severed from him talking to us. That included the grandchildren. Letters and cards never made it past her hands. Dad was in no medical condition to choose sides at this point.

When she passed away four years later, all of their possessions were taken by the city of Las Vegas per Nevada law. There was no “will” or “trust”, so we had zero rights to anything. Jim and I tried to get access to the photos yet were denied.

We’d pretty much given up on ever seeing them again, when out of the blue, my brother received a call. It was from our father’s deceased wife’s daughter, Stacie, who lives in Tennessee.

Las Vegas Social Services had mailed Stacie an envelope with old pictures inside, and some of the people were unrecognizable to her. She thought they might belong to our side of the family. It was amazing that she was able to contact Jim.

To make a long story short, on December 5, 2022, my brother met this lady at a Las Vegas storage warehouse. Stacie had traveled there to go through the items that the city now held. There was hardly anything left of value. When Stacie handed Jim the photos, he instantly recognized the one of J.C and let out a whoop. Jim had hit the jackpot as far as he was concerned.

Ultimately, a smiling face miraculously survived, for us to remember an uncle that we never got to meet!

 J.C. Hankins gravestone – Asbury Cemetery – Vernon, Alabama

WELL UNINFORMED

“I was chatting with someone a while back about newspapers and they mentioned they’re no longer receiving or reading them anymore.”

Wise man

On occasion, I’m asked, “How do you remember things so far back like you do?”

There’s no simple explanation for such. I chalk it up to several different factions.

Early on, I was inquisitive of my grandparents. I wanted to know more about their lives including that of relatives long deceased. “Where did they come from?” was often repeated like a broken record.

Dad and Mom supplied me with much of my own primitive history, as did older brother, Jim. His memory is still sharp as a tack.

I’ve maintained contact with childhood friends. Everyone remembers something about their adolescent years, and a shared tidbit can help unleash trapped recollections. The Jet Drive-In in Selma, Alabama is a prime example.

There were only certain things I recalled about the place, until a former classmate supplied me with additional information. I can now visualize it clearly without fog.

I learned to write things down. By merely placing thoughts onto paper, it chisels them into the brain as well.

Throughout my life I elected to not experiment with alcohol or drugs. Seeing what they did to my own family member and friends, I had no use for mind altering substances. That played a key part in keeping my brain cells alive.

Foremost at this stage of my life, newspapers helped immensely in rekindling memories. More on that at the end of this spiel.

I was chatting with someone a while back about newspapers, and they mentioned they’re no longer receiving or reading them. This includes online editions. Before asking why, the lady immediately went into a lengthy tirade about getting all the news she needed via social media and the internet.

Desperately wanting to reply, “You must be well uninformed!,” I wisely bit my tongue. Quite often, I have a way of blurting out abrasive comments and suffering the consequences. My younger years were full of verbal and physical encounters from bluntly speaking my mind.

Just recently, I was reading an article on one of those social media forum sites. It was a link to a newspaper story that a forum member attached. I was able to read it in full because I’m a subscriber. One man was evidently blocked after a few paragraphs. My attention quickly turned to all the racket he made via crass and uncalled for comments.

Profane language, combined with him unintelligently trying to claim that newspapers should provide news for free got my attention. The word “uninformed” came to light once again.

People like him have no problem doling out hundreds of dollars for cable or dish news, yet quickly become misers in other areas. For him to say that newspaper news should be free is beyond lame. Amazing as it sounds, he’s not the only one “out there” uttering such.

Newspapers have done lots for me over the years besides providing local coverage. I subscribe to a site that supplies archived newspaper stories going back to the 1800s. I’ve been able to find articles regarding different events that helped fill in missing pieces of my life.

In 1950, my mother was seriously burned in a fire. I discovered several articles on this accident in the Vernon, Alabama, “Lamar Democrat” newspaper. Dad was overseas at this time, and only through multiple community reports, did I find my brother was taken care of by grandparents on Mom’s side.

A short clip in the “San Bernadino County Sun” dated, July 11, 1957, told the story of an accident my father was involved in on Route 66. He was riding in a Corvette with another man near Victorville, California when their sportscar left the road and crashed. I knew bits and pieces about the accident, yet this story written by a newspaper reporter filled me in on the rest.

In the late 1950s, I was playing behind our trailer home in Selma, Alabama when a man standing on a mobile home roof next to ours was electrocuted while installing a TV antenna. Neither Dad nor Mom could accurately remember details to what happened to the fellow. Mom believed he was killed.

Researching things, I found a newspaper article in the March 10, 1958, issue of “The Selma Times-Journal” describing everything about this accident. The individual survived as I thought he did, although he lost a severely burned arm. Another article dated a year later mentioned that the airman was able to rejoin active duty status with the Air Force.

That same year in Selma, our neighbor and friend, Lt. Richard Herndon was killed in a military plane crash. Newspaper articles brought me up to speed on his tragedy. I didn’t need a newspaper to vividly recall the wreath placed on Mary Herndon’s trailer door days after that tragedy.

I was a Cub Scout in 1960. A short newspaper piece in the community section mentioned me including all the other kids. It even told who our den mother was as I’d completely forgotten her name.

On July 19, 1960, Dad with one of his friends, Jim, and me, were fishing near the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma. A couple of older boys were swimming in the Alabama River down from us. The next day, Dad informed us that after we’d left, one of the swimmers drowned. I was able to confirm that sad story and date things through an old newspaper article.

I could go on and on about events from the past that local newspapers helped bring back to life for me. I’d love for that woman claiming that she gets all her news from social media and the internet, to repeat the same in fifty years.

If she relies strictly on memory, she’ll undoubtedly encounter fog thicker than that in London!

London fog

SENIOR MARATHON

“One step at a time,” is often muttered when this occurs.

My grown children run marathons on occasion, as do several of their cousins. I’ve never been one to run just for fun. Walking suits me fine for getting around.

There are marathons taking place all over the country most every week. My son and his wife traveled to Utah several months ago, to take part in a Ragnar relay running event where they dressed up in costumes of their picking. Gunnar wore a faux beard with official Bubba-Gump baseball cap. He even had on the correct tee-shirt and shorts. Yes, he was Forrest Gump reincarnated.

I recently watched a video about a fellow named, Chris Parker, who ran a 26-mile Florida marathon while carrying a marching style snare drum. He’d play the drum on occasion as he tooled along. At the 26-mile marker and with the very last beat of his drum, he set a new world’s record.

What my son and other marathon runners most likely don’t know, is that some day, they’ll be participating in life marathons. I call these Senior Marathons and they’re neither 5K or 10K events. In fact, distance doesn’t enter into things at all whereas time does. Merely getting in and out of doors via cane, walker, or wheelchair is the grand prize. No ribbons or trophies are handed out for successfully completing such.

Senior marathons, like the others, have their aches and pains. One big difference between the two is that it generally takes something much stronger than Bayer aspirin or Tylenol to help senior contestants find comfort.

I’ve spent mega time sitting in medical and hospital waiting rooms, including chemo wards. Over the years, I’ve watched the same senior marathon play out time and time again.

A car will roll up outside the medical facility entrance. Sometimes there’s just the driver and other times a passenger is visible. Last Friday, I watched the following take place.

After parking his Toyota SUV, a man most likely in his eighty’s slowly opened the driver car door. He’d thoughtfully popped the hatch beforehand. Moving carefully to the back of his vehicle, he struggled to remove a collapsible walker. At this point I hurried over offering assistance. The kindly fellow smiled and told me he had the regimen down pat.

Getting the walker snapped together, he pushed this wheeled apparatus to the passenger side door before opening it. A frail looking lady who I presumed to be his wife carefully got out. After making sure she wasn’t going to fall, the couple precariously trudged up a sidewalk to the building. The man let me open the heavy door for him and he offered thanks.

I could see that just getting his wife out of their automobile and seated in the waiting room had him physically spent. His last move before sitting down was grab a cup of water. Beads of perspiration rolled down both cheeks. Taking a sip he then offered her the rest.

The amount of energy put forth doing such is immeasurable. To him, I’m sure he felt as if he’d just run a 5K, yet still had to do it all over again before heading home. How many times a week this plays out is unknown to me, but I’d guess it’s quite often.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to use a walker or wheelchair thus far. My homemade “Hurst” shifter cane comes in handy when my back’s out of whack. There have been times I went to the grocery store all kinked up, only needing a few small items, and snagged a shopping cart at the last moment just for something to lean on. “One step at a time,” is often muttered when this occurs.

Even though they don’t realize it, young and middle-aged runners are merely prepping themselves for the big one, the Senior Marathon. When that one starts, much like Chris Parker’s 26-miler while toting a snare drum, it’ll not end until the very last beat!